Ital­ians throw party to wel­come mi­grants

More than 1,000 in Mi­lan throw new ar­rivals a party

Baltimore Sun - - BUSINESS - By COLLEEN BARRY

MI­LAN — More than 1,000 Ital­ians on Tues­day threw a block party fea­tur­ing a pasta lunch, a brass band and crafts to wel­come some 80 mi­grants to the neigh­bor­hood in Mi­lan, con­trast­ing with ris­ing an­timi­grant ten­sions through­out the coun­try in­clud­ing a protest at the bar­racks the night be­fore.

Shouts of wel­come went up as a small con­tin­gent of about 30 mi­grants came out of a re­cently re­pur­posed army bar­racks for what was billed as the first wel­come party of its kind in Italy.

“I feel happy,” said 22year-old Zakaria Ab­del­lahi from Ethiopia, who ar­rived in Italy three months ago with his wife. “I feel like I am fa­mous. Ev­ery­where I look, they are tak­ing pic­tures. I think I am Obama.”

The pre­vi­ous night the mood out­side the bar­racks had been less wel­com­ing. About 200 peo­ple be­long­ing to a right-wing party and an ex­trem­ist move­ment protested, car­ry­ing ban­ners that read “Ital­ians first.” Mi­grants peeked un­easily from the bar­racks’ win­dows over­look­ing the pi­azza, be­fore clos­ing the shade.

It was the third such protest in re­cent days, with anti-mi­grant cam­paign­ers pledg­ing more. Ten­sions over mi­grants have been ris­ing in Italy amid per­sis­tent ar­rivals cre­at­ing a crunch in the hous­ing sys­tem in the months since Rome has stepped up its bor­der con­trols un­der pres­sure from Euro­pean neigh­bors.

Or­ga­niz­ers of Tues­day’s wel­come event said that politi­cians on the right have been us­ing the cri­sis in ar­rivals to stir up an­timi­grant sen­ti­ment, lever­ag­ing Italy’s eco­nomic stag­na­tion to cre­ate un­cer­tainty and fear. They de­cided on the wel­come party af­ter the city’s plans to open the bar­racks to mi­grants be­came a po­lit­i­cal flash­point, hop­ing that fa­mil­iar­ity with the new­com­ers would help ease res­i­dents’ reser­va­tions.

“It is very im­por­tant that we meet each other and try to face the fu­ture in a dif­fer­ent way. This is one rea­son for this event. The other is that politi­cians are try­ing to use the mi­grant is­sue to get votes,” said Se­lana Tes­fai, a founder of the Zone 8 Soli­tary Com­mit­tee.

Mi­grant ar­rivals in Italy have topped 153,000 in the first 10 months of the year, close to that of all of last year although still shy of the record 170,000 in 2014. But with fewer head­ing north, Italy has had to come up with more mi­grant hous­ing and aid — and more of­ten has met lo­cal re­sis­tance.

Last week, dozens of res­i­dents of the small Adri­atic clam­ming town of Goro blocked a road to pre­vent a dozen fe­male mi­grants from be­ing housed in the lo­cal hos­tel. The act was widely con­demned, but re­ceived sup­port from rightwing politi­cians.

Mi­lan re­mains the city with the most mi­grant ar- Mi­grants and citizens dance and hug each other out­side re­pur­posed army bar­racks in Mi­lan, Tues­day. ri­vals in Italy, largely be­cause it is seen as a tran­sit point, the city of­fi­cial charged with so­cial pol­icy, Pier­francesco Ma­jorino, told The As­so­ci­ated Press at the wel­come party.

“In th­ese months we have seen many small man­i­fes­ta­tions against ( mi­grants) in north­ern Italy, even in Mi­lan,” Ma­jorino said. “This is the first time there is a mo­bi­liza­tion to wel­come them. I find this very nice.”

Or­ga­niz­ers said they have ap­proached the char­ity that is run­ning the bar­racks shel­ter to cre­ate pro­grams so the mi­grants feel at home, such as sport­ing events, cook­ing classes and a map of places in the neigh­bor­hood that want to help with the tran­si­tion.

Since the cri­sis be­gan on Oct. 18, 2013, 108,000 mi- grants have passed through Mi­lan. From 2013-2015, just 2 per­cent of mi­grants re­quested asy­lum; that has now jumped to 75 per­cent, Ma­jorino said. Cur­rently, the city is hous­ing 3,760 mi­grants.

The 300 new beds at the bar­racks will be filled in the com­ing days with mi­grants al­ready in Mi­lan shel­ters. The spots were added to pre­vent over­crowd­ing.

LUCA BRUNO/AP

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